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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Just Ride by Grant Petersen: A Review

Grant Petersen is one of the great souls in the world of bicycles. He's been called a retro-grouch but I've never actually found him to be grouchy. The retro label fits better but in an industry obsessed with faster, better, lighter and newer, a considered consideration of the notion that some old values might still have value is a welcome perspective. For years, at Bridgestone and more recently at Rivendell, Grant Petersen has provided that consideration and put products out into the world that he finds to be "simple, practical and proven."

I've mentioned Grant's book, Just Ride, a couple of times earlier on this blog and last night the Kindle version of the book went live on Amazon. These days I prefer getting my books in electronic form, so I'd been waiting for the digital release. One feature of the Kindle is the ability for a reader to highlight and Tweet out links to passages in a book and last night and this morning my Twitter followers found their streams filled with snippets from Grant's book as I quickly and delightedly clicked my way through the virtual pages of Just Ride, highlighting as I went.

I've seen this book in the real world and it's a slim volume but it is packed full of interesting thoughts about bicycles and riding. While I certainly don't agree with everything Grant has to say (I think he conveniently ignores the folks who have fun racing, for example), his perspective is well worth reading. I found myself highlighting many passages.

Folks familiar with Grant's work won't be surprised by the kind words he uses to describe steel as a material for bicycles but may be surprised to find he has this to say about titanium:

"Price aside, it is the ideal material for winter commuting on salted roads. Titanium frames were most popular in the pre-carbon years of about 1990 to around 2003. It’s still a terrific frame material, but it’s more labor-intensive than factory-built carbon frames. Titanium may be the only frame material in common use that doesn’t have either a real or perceived drawback. I’m not saying it’s the best material, and it isn’t my favorite, just that no matter how big a fan you are of steel, aluminum, carbon, or bamboo, you’ve got to like the all-around wonderfulness of titanium."

He's much more cautious of carbon, however:

"Carbon is... the least defect-tolerant fork material. Defect tolerance is a material’s ability to maintain its toughness—and safety—when there’s a defect. Defects may be contamination between layers of carbon fiber, or a gap, or the weave of carbon not being optimized for the directional stresses). Or the defect may be a wound caused by an accident. In any case, because carbon fails so suddenly, a defect in a carbon fork can be disastrous."

Grant espouses a certain aesthetic that not everyone shares. For example, he writes:

"Most panniers come in pairs but can be used singly, and you often see students or commuters riding around with only one. Whatever works is fine, but it’s an irritating sight, kind of like somebody walking around, perfectly content and all, in a long-sleeved shirt with one of the sleeves rolled up all the way."

I can understand his irritation, I feel the same way whenever I see shellacked handlebar tape. I think that's one of the goofiest things ever.

A book that only contains words you agree with is not nearly as useful as one that makes you think and that you learn things from, and Grant has written such a book. He questions things, like helmets and blinkie lights, and comes down firmly in favor of things like sturdy tires. I won't argue with him on that one, his sentiments echo mine:

"It’s easy to buy tires with an extra layer of rubber, nylon, kevlar, or something else between the casing and tread to stop thorns. Every extra bit of protection adds weight that will always scare off racers and others under the spell, but for all-purpose Unracing rides, I like extra flat protection. Why not? I’ve fixed at least five hundred flats in my life, I’m really good at it, and I still hate it. Beef up my tires, thank you."

Grant questions lots of authority in this book, including his own. He's designed many bike frames but he knows there are things he doesn't know:

"Drop is the one area of bike geometry I feel fuzzy about. I have suspicions about it, but no convictions. I’m suspicious of anybody who is as declarative about it as I used to be."

I could go on for longer than the book about this section or that with which I agree or differ but I am not Grant and you are not me so my message here is simple: Read Grant's book. It's good and it's useful. I liked it and I think you will as well.

Here's a final bit from the book that I liked:

"Be saintlike on the bike path. You are the predator, so ride slowly and defer to everyone. Signal your approach with a bell or a “hi.” Pass with at least two feet of clearance and ride at or below the speed limit (usually 15 miles per hour), at least when people are in sight. Keep both hands on the handlebars, because one- or no-handed riding makes nervous riders even more nervous. Stay to the right, pass on the left. If you’re a guy, don’t chitchat with solo women you meet—give them their space. Always use lights at night, because bike paths aren’t lit up, and reflectors won’t work..."

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

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